WITH its vast areas of unspoiled natural beauty, Scotland is unsurprisingly a haven for a huge variety of wild birds.
And just as night follows day, where there are wild birds there are inevitably twitchers, those who like nothing more than spending hours crouched in a small hide to catch a glimpse of these animals in their natural habitat.
While most bird watchers would usually dedicate their weekend to observing our fine feathered friends, next weekend the wild birds might find themselves a little starved for company, as Edinburgh hosts the largest gathering of twitchers Scotland has ever seen.
Thousands are expected to flock to the first ever Scottish Birdfair being held at Hopetoun House, whose 150 acres of grounds are something of a nature reserve, and will provide the perfect setting for the Dawn Chorus Walks that will start off each day of the fair.
While Scotland is often invaded by twitchers keen to catch sight of a particularly rare species – in 2010 hundreds of enthusiasts headed to Tyninghame in East Lothian to try to catch a rare glimpse of the semipalmated sandpiper – it has never before hosted its own event dedicated to the hobby.
Similar events organised south of the border have seen crowds of more than 23,000 turn out to swap spotting tips and pick up advice on the best locations and the top equipment.
Organisers of the inaugural Scottish event are hoping to see crowds of more than 5000 make their way to Hopetoun House for a weekend of talks, walks and demonstrations.
With an array of speakers, workshops and events lined up across the two days, visitors will be able to indulge every aspect of their hobby.
Once they have worked up a thirst they will even be able to enjoy Slavonian Grebe Gold, brewed specially for the Scottish Birdfair and named after arguably the most attractive of the UK’s breeding grebes.
“It’s really nice,” says Sarah McDowell, major events manager for the RSPB. “We were really chuffed to get it and I’m pretty sure it will prove popular.”
Nice as it may be of course, the guests will be there strictly for the birds, and Sarah is hoping that the crowds will be more than catered for by a huge range of talks and events.
Among the highlights will be a talk by Bo Beolens, also known as the “Fatbirder”, who will be giving readings reflecting his birding experiences over half a century and answering questions about his birding travels – including regular forays into the Scottish hinterland.
Sir John Lister Kaye, vice-president of RSPB will explain the benefits to wildlife of the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland, while Tom Brock OBE, of the Scottish Seabird Centre, will discuss the attractions’ 12-year history and the exciting developments for the future.
Sarah said they were aiming to cater for everyone from complete novices to experienced bird watchers, and said they were expecting to see eager “twitchers” from across the globe at their first ever event.
“We have had a huge response to this and we’ve had interest from all over the world,” she said. “The event in England regularly has people travelling from overseas, and there is so much to do here that we are hoping people will come along.
“There’s something for everyone, so if people are maybe interested in bird watching but haven’t tried it before then they will be able to learn all about it, from the type of equipment to use to where they can see certain species of bird.
“We will have an ‘ask the expert’ stand where we will hopefully be able to answer any questions.”
Among the speakers will be Phil Atkinson, of the British Trust for Ornithology, discussing the changes technology has made to our ability to track migrating birds and the changing threats the animals face.
Louise Batchelor, a former BBC Scotland environment correspondent and director of the Fair Isle Bird Observatory will also be discussing her work. Lousie went to Fair Isle – Britain’s most remote inhabited island – to film a story in 1995, but fell in love with it and has been a regular visitor ever since. She was also part of a challenging project to replace the old observatory with a new one, which opened last year. The island is renowned for its rare migrants as well as its seabird colonies, and Louise has seen first hand how the bird population has reacted to rapid environmental change.
There will also be a chance to learn from the experts, such as photographer Dean Bricknell who will help provide lessons on how to get the perfect shot without startling the birds, and Rebekah Stackhouse, of RSPB Scotland, who will be talking about birds of prey.
As well as all the events there will be a chance to shop from 80 wildlife-related trade stands, where keen twitchers will be able to get their hands on the latest birding technology, holidays, optics, literature, art work and much more.
All the proceeds raised over the weekend will go towards conserving and protecting Scottish wildlife.
Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland said: The Scottish Birdfair is not just a celebration of Scotland’s amazing wildlife, it provides an ideal opportunity for people to learn more about nature and enjoy a family day away from city life. As well as fascinating talks, there will be tips to try out in the garden, guided walks exploring the stunning grounds of Hopetoun House and interactive workshops for all ages.”
The Scottish Birdfair takes place on May 19 and 20, from 9am-5.30pm both days. Details at www.scottishbirdfair.org.uk